‘Where The Food Comes From’ airs season 2 on RFD-TV
We’ve all heard the phrase farm-to-table, those hot buzzwords in the food/dining industry. But have you seen it in action?
Now you can, says Chip Carter, the host/producer of “Where The Food Comes From,” a television series airing on the RFD-TV cable channel at 9:30 p.m. Thursdays.
The first season launched in January and covered farming and processing of food, mostly throughout the southeastern United States. (Already there’s a cookbook and plans for a national radio show on SiriusXM in the fall.)
The second season, which is currently airing, includes shows about Florida and its wild-caught seafood industry; farming of broccoli, cabbage and eggplant as well as food banks; a produce convention in Orlando; the hunger-relief nonprofit Society of St. Andrew; and the importance of bees as explained by scientists at the University of Florida.
“In fact, our very first show was down in Homestead,” Carter says from his home in Tampa. “It was with some of the tomato people, looking at tomato production. How does that happen? Where does it come from? What are some of the challenges?
“We’re trying not to put too much science into the show because we don’t want it to be the Mr. Wizard show. It almost makes me nervous when people say, ‘Wow! I sure did learn a lot watching.’ “
The native Georgian was a syndicated columnist with The Chicago Tribune. He also wrote for The Washington Post and was a video producer for The Huffington Post. His career has given him brushes with greatness among the likes of Derek Jeter, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl and Stan Lee.
“I mean, I’m a country kid. I’m not a farm kid. My dad was a minister. I was a small-town preacher’s kid. But all the little towns that we lived in were all farm towns, so that’s funny, and my grandparents are from that environment,” he says. “My dad’s people were gentlemen farmers, because they paid other people to do the farming. My mother’s people were dairy farmers … I’ve got pictures of my grandfather behind the mule pushing a plow, which I am doing now [in a segment] behind a mule. I mean talk about full circle.”
But that aside, Carter feels that his journey to “Where The Food Comes From” was still unlikely because stints in Atlanta — where he was involved with food industry trade publications and The Associated Press, edited a magazine (giving a nascent RuPaul some of his first coverage) and later worked as a globetrotting columnist — were the exact opposite of his family’s rural-agriculture roots.
“I had a very urban/suburban/international life. And a few years ago, I started hearing my teenage kids talking about things like high fructose corn syrup, and how they didn’t want it. I was like, are you kidding? It is delicious. I thought, as a parent, have I failed?” he says. “But seriously, I realized that these were 14- and 15-year-olds talking about these times. And I looked and I said, ‘Oh, there’s something going on here.’”
The actual concept for the TV docuseries has been in the background of potential projects since around 2009, when he started with a magazine, Southeast Produce Weekly.
“It was just stuff that that was always fascinating to me. I’d take the kids out to see the hydroponic strawberry grower in Plant City. The soccer team I coached for 11 years, our soccer field was surrounded on three sides by orange groves. So we’re playing soccer amongst the orange blossoms. It was already part of our lives, and I made sure to draw those lines and connections. It’s just something that always spoke to me.
“And then I saw it was speaking to my kids, and not just them but their friends. And I was like, there’s something here, and there’s a story of agriculture that we’re missing,” he continues. “What we have is a personal relationship with food, where we come together and break bread. I felt almost being called home, to come back and tell the story. It was almost like a clarion call, like in the old Steve Martin movie, ‘The Jerk,’ because I found my special purpose.”
In the first season, they shot near the SoFlo area, at Southern Gardens Citrus, which is off of Lake Okeechobee in Clewiston, and IMG Citrus in Vero Beach (though those farms are just north of Jupiter). Those video clips appeared in episodes 9 and 10.
The region has appeared in other episodes as well, and Carter says they “will be coming back in the near future to do episodes on vanilla and a new commercial banana operation, among others.”
While profiling some large growers and food product companies, the show tends to focus on one or two people — taking the viewer deep inside labs, packaging plants and distribution systems almost as often as it hangs out in fields, with what has already become a signature folksy chinwag with farmers.
“We heard everything about big agribusiness and the big scary side of it all. And I said there’s got to be more. Who’s growing tomatoes? Who’s growing the apples? Are they as bad as … all the big players?” Carter says. “And that’s been the most wonderful, fascinating thing to find out is that the people who grow our produce, they are really regular farmers … Some of them are huge businesses, but … they’re still family owned.”
Through his show, Carter is expanding the definition of farming, too.
“This season we’re gonna take a look at Florida’s wild caught seafood industry. Because I was like, you know what, I bet they have some the exact same problems as our land farmer. Turns out that’s exactly the case, but they’re just farming the ocean.”
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“Where The Food Comes From” almost has its niche all to itself, at least on cable TV, he says. “Why is nothing else like it in the space? Nobody knew about it.”
He goes on to explain, “It’s just … the most incredible gift to tap into a wellspring of untold stories and unknown stories … I know that that having a show on RFD-TV is kind of like taking a page out of my dad’s playbook and preaching to the choir. But it’s amazing how many people, even in the country and in small towns and a lot of places that we go, they’re not involved in agriculture, so they don’t know about it.”
Just as his preacher father might have, Carter sees a grand design.
“One of our Season 1 episodes, we followed vegetable production from the Everglades in January and February, all the way up through Georgia into the Carolinas and set up that the miracle of how what grows here in January, grows in Maine and Michigan in July and August, and it comes back around and then starts all over again. Being out there where you’re facing the dirt every day, literally looking at nature and seeing it all unfold, it just gives you a reassurance. Kind of like we’re all meant to be together. We’re all meant to work together.
“And the fact that there’s — call it what you will, whoever it is to you, the great spirit, the cosmic force … or whatever you want to call it — there’s something there that has created this order that we obtained, that we have turned into an art form, where we can grow food somewhere in this country and this world 12 months out of the year. But you know what? That really proves more than anything that we’re all meant to work together. Because if I’ve got food in Florida in January, and you’ve got food in Maine in August, if we don’t share it, it don’t do any of us any good.”
In Broward and Palm Beach counties, you can watch on these channels:
- AT&T U-verse – channels 568 and 1568 HD
- DirecTV – channels 345 and 345 HD
- Dish Network – channels 231 and 231 HD